California To Vote On Marijuana Legalization Initiative

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Come November, California could become the fifth state to legalize recreational pot. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Alex Padilla declared that a game-changing marijuana initiative will be on the ballot this fall.

Padilla’s office received 600,000 signatures to get the Adult Use of Marijuana Act on the ballot. If passed, anyone aged 21 and up and can have an ounce of cannabis on their person, without being arrested or fined. State residents would also be able to grow six plants in their own homes, and purchase weed from licensed retailers. Recreational use would be permitted except in enclosed public places that currently ban tobacco use, such as bars and restaurants.

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Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook, led a large campaign to get the number of signatures required for the initiative to be added to the ballot. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) is among the list of supporters, as well as the California Democratic Party, California chapter of the NAACP, and the California Medical Association. People in favor of legalization argue it would add $1 billion to the state’s annual revenue and reduce the high arrest and incarceration rates of minorities.

Meanwhile, opposition groups such as law enforcement agencies and the California Republican Party argue that recreational pot will threaten society.

“The dangers of marijuana are pretty clear in terms of motorist safety, criminal activity, impacts on society,” Cory Salzillo, legislative director of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, told the Associated Press. “We don’t believe that decriminalization will upend the black market.”

A poll by Probolsky Research concluded that 60 percent of California residents favored legalization, as of February. A 2010 statewide ballot initiative to legalization marijuana failed, with 46.5 percent voting in favor and 53.5 percent against.

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Half of the country currently allows medical marijuana use, which has a wide range of health benefits for people with chronic pain and diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s. But Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, — plus Washington, D.C. — are the only states that permit recreational pot.

Because cannabis is classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal government, meaning it has no medical value and a high potential for abuse, scientists have a difficult time researching its short and long-term effects. But studies have debunked some of the popular critiques used to push back on legalization. Marijuana use doesn’t make car crashes more likely. It doesn’t cause more crime. In states with legalized weed, teenagers aren’t more likely to consume it.

According to the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), the dropout, arrest, and overdose rates among teenagers dropped when marijuana was decriminalized in California in 2011.

But marijuana-related arrests in the states that legalized recreational pot still disproportionately impact black consumers. Although the total number of arrests plummeted, black people in D.C. and Colorado are still twice as likely to be arrested than their white counterparts for possession. In Colorado, arrest rates for black and Latino youth increased by 20 percent and 50 percent, respectively, while the arrest rate of white kids dropped by 10 percent.